A federal lawsuit filed after the death of a young man at Cook County jail is raising a number of questions about how that facility is run. John Lambert[pictured below] was incarcerated in Cook County jail in June of 2007. Lambert had previously had some run-ins with law enforcement agencies, but they were all relatively minor. He was placed in a maximum security division of the jail. Lambert’s cellmate, David Jamison, had been in incarcerated for years, awaiting retrial of a rape conviction that had been overturned. Lambert was found unconscious in his cell with massive head trauma on June 26, 2007. He lingered for 12 days in the hospital and then died. A pathologist concluded that he had been beaten to death. Just days before the murder, other prisoners had observed Lambert and Jamison arguing. Given those facts, seems pretty clear that Jamison would be arrested and charged with murder. Nope.
In the fall of 2008, a Chicago Tribune article written by Gary Marx criticized the handling of the investigation into Lambert’s death. After the article appeared prosecutors re-opened the case. Finally, on Tuesday, February 11, 2009, Jamison was charged with the murder.
Lambert’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Tom Dart and Cook County jail officials. The complaint alleges that paramedics failed to immediately respond to calls for help after Lambert was found in his cell. The complaint alleges that 90 minutes passed before Lambert was taken to the hospital and underwent surgery. The Lamberts are alleging that prompt action may have saved their son’s life. The Lamberts have also raised questions about why their son, a non-violent petty crime offender, was incarcerated with violent felons.
Jamison has denied any involvment, and gave a statement to investigators that Lambert was injured when he fell out of bed. An inmate with a cell near Jamison’s provided a statement that Jamison later boasted that he “…punched Lambert in the back of the head…and beat his brains in..”
Lambert’s death was just one of a number of examples in a 2008 Justice Department report that was critical of the level of violence at Cook County jail.